Diego Beekman presents Mott Haven jail alternative

Before there were talks of a jail, the NYPD tow pound in Mott Haven was being eyed for bigger and better purposes.

Non-profit Diego Beekman Mutual Housing for years has been formulating an expansion plan that included the acquisition of the pound on 141st Street and Concord Avenue.

Being part of a larger, neighborhood revitalization, representatives from Diego Beekman presented their affordable housing and development pitch to Community Board 1 on Thursday, May 31.

The proposed plan would split the superblock containing the current tow pound into two halves, creating two distinct blocks,while expanding adjacent Wales Avenue as a vehicular street that would run through the new development down into East 141st Street.

Major parts of the redevelopment include converting the tow pound grounds and surrounding block into 533 housing units spread throughout 12 buildings on the lot.

The plan also calls for a three-story light-manufacturing plant in addition to a supermarket with a rooftop parking deck.

After extensive research was conducted, Mott Haven was determined to be a ‘food desert,’ with little variety or healthy options.

Also, recent surveys have found that a supermarket was number one ‘service want’ by residents of the area.

Improved public safety was also found to be a frequent request while the report also indicated six homeless shelters in close proximity to the Beekman houses.

Diego Beekman’s plan extends past developing the tow pound, though.

Two other neighborhood sites had also been eyed for development as both affordable and senior housing at 351 Powers Avenue and 698-700 E. 138th Street.

Worse than Beekman’s plan being overruled by a jail, there is expressed concern for Mott Haven’s overall welfare if the site is grabbed by the mayor.

Johnnie Johnson a board member of Diego Beekman and lifetime resident of the area talked about the drop in crime she’s seen in the past four years.

“As soon as we took over, began fixing the buildings, it’s become beautiful now, we can breathe now,” said Johnson.

If a jail is built on the site, “Property values are going to go way down, who’s going to want to buy something over here?” she said.

Johnson also mentioned that many residents approached her saying they would likely move if the jail is built, including herself.

“Everybody is scared of this, they’re terrified, it’s sad,” Johnson said.

During the CB 1 meeting, Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. addressed the issue of the new jail, advocating that Mott Haven is not the right spot.

“The Lippman report indicates that the best location for a jail is near civic centers, which is why the courthouse is the right location, nobody wants a jail in their district,” Salamanca told residents.

The councilman also stated that constructing a jail on the tow pound site would place three jails within two miles of each another in the south Bronx.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is aware that in the end, a community somewhere in the Bronx will have to host the jail, but he along with many others believe it should not be placed at the police pound site.

Diaz organized a protest of the Mott Haven jail site on May 1 to express his opposition.

“What we’re saying is the way (the mayor’s office) went about selecting this site, the fact that this community has already toughed it out and that the community has an actual plan for (this spot), this is just not an acceptable location,” Diaz said.